2016 so far has been one of the most interesting years when it comes to Hallyu or the Korean Wave, especially Korean dramas. To be terribly blunt, many K-drama fans were taken on what could be best described as a roller coaster ride experiencing the highest highs and lowest lows about their Korean idols and actors.
Beginning with the positives about K-dramas this year, we are continuing the wave of success first experienced the year prior in 2015. Many of the series are breaking the double-digit viewership ceilings domestically while dominating the subscription viewership streaming sites internationally. Descendants of the Sun is the easiest example to give as that K-drama starring Song Joong Ki and Song Hye Kyo earned over 25 percent average in viewership, over 30 percent for the Seoul National Capital Area for AGB Nielsen Korea. Internationally, it dominated too becoming the most-watched K-drama and the third most-watched drama overall in China.
However, the monumental spike in popularity for K-dramas this year has resulted in an equal amount of issues too. For starters, K-dramas — or all things Hallyu or Korean Wave as a matter of fact — are going through the initial stages of being banned from China. It is believed South Korea’s collaboration with the United States for the Terminal High Altitude Are Defense (THAAD) is the primary reason, but it could be that China wants to become the leader in Asian entertainment instead. C-dramas God of War, Zhao Yun and Ice Fantasy seem to be a testament to such an endeavor.
A more current debilitating situation about the rise in K-drama’s popularity is the increase in tabloid and gossip news. This is true for relationship news in which they are fabricating “relationships” in their stories. In South Korea, such fabrications, even if it is tabloid or gossip, might be subject to their laws which may result in severe libel lawsuits.
Before continuing, it should be noted that some of these relationships mentioned are very popular fan ships. This is especially true for Song Joong Ki and Song Hye Kyo of Descendants of the Sun. Given that both of the Hallyu stars are not in confirmed relationships, K-drama fans do hope and ship a relationship between the two of them will form. The thing is if both Joong Ki and Hye Kyo are in an official relationship, they will make it as private as possible and will announce it to the public through their agencies when the time is right. Anytime Song Joong Ki and Song Hye Kyo meeting up, mostly at press events or special occasions, are made openly public, it is usually centered on either professional relationship or one of friendship. The same goes with Kim Woo Bin and Bae Suzy of Uncontrollably Fond, IU and Lee Joon Gi of Scarlet Heart: Ryeo, Park Bo Gum and Kim Yoo Jung of Moonlight Drawn By Clouds, or any other K-drama.
Right now, Lee Min Ho is one-half of tabloid gossip making its rounds on the internet right now. It came about after Channel News Asia published an entertainment piece which they say is for their own tongue-in-cheek amusement, which means it is not to be taken seriously, but just for fun. In it, they featured five different guys Taylor Swift should be with on her next celebrity date. Though popular K-pop idol G-Dragon of equally popular K-pop group Big Bang (who is reportedly single) was on the list, gossip reporters singled in on Min Ho. Take note that Lee Min Ho is in a confirmed relationship with Bae Suzy since March, as reported by the Korea Herald.
Needless to say but said gossip articles got the attention of many Lee Min Ho fans, especially since they used click bait catch titles that would easily cause them to read it mostly in anger or shock. There was a follow-up on said follow-up gossip articles revealing that Lee Min Ho and Taylor Swift were paired in a fantasy setting for amusement purposes, but it was too little and too late.
Overall, there is a rise in gossip about Hallyu stars especially those who star in popular K-dramas. The question is why and how did it happen? For starters, gossip and tabloid news, as we see and know them, are looked down upon and highly avoided in South Korea, especially online. If such gossip were to circulate, the business and its writers at risk as fans of Hallyu stars are very vocal and active in their defense sometimes resulting in shows of violence.
Also, the business and its writers risk suffering a severe libel lawsuit. Back in 2008, the Korea Communications Commission (KCC) incorporated a stricter Cyber defamation law which would punish cyber defamation and cyber bullying, as reported by the Korea Times. Summarized, gossip and tabloid news and the people who push it through bullying Korean celebrities may find themselves paying millions or serving prison time. The stricter laws were made to protect Korean celebrities, especially Hallyu stars, as gossip and bullying have been linked to the increase of them being depressed and committing suicide.
The suicide of Choi Jin Sil is probably one of the biggest events to happen in which the KCC pushed for stricter cyber defamation laws. According to Korean news outlet Donga gossip and rumors were spread that Jin Sil loaned a large sum of money to Ahn Jae Hwan, husband to popular comedian Jeong Sun Hee, as a loan shark. Because of his mounting debt, Jae Hwan committed suicide. Jin Sil probed into the rumors and got the individual responsible arrested, but the cyber defamation did its job as cyber bullying commenced which in turn put her under greater distress. This event of gossip and online bullying is recognized as the cause for Choi Jin Sil’s suicide.
These days, tabloid and gossip in South Korea is viewed disgustingly. If news sites were to report on relationships, they have to do it within speculation, not through indirection (such as clickbait titles). That is why Dispatch is still respected. They are good at finding juicy celebrity details but are honorable enough not to slather libel for their own personal gain. For example, if two Hallyu stars are seen taking a drive at 3 a.m. KST in the morning, Dispatch will take the pictures and report them as two Hallyu stars taking a drive at 3 a.m. They may even bring up fan ships in their article, but they will never apply, directly or indirectly, the two are dating if there is no confirmation.
From what is known, South Korea’s libel laws might not extend internationally. As a result, gossip and tabloid writers will continue to write such drivel to bank on the fandom without any fear of being taken down. This will, of course, anger K-drama fans, but that won’t matter as long as they provide traffic. What K-drama fans can do is not emotionally click on such articles that have click bait titles. Instead, they can verify its authenticity by finding the source online or seeing if a credited news site that reports on Korean entertainment, such as AllKpop, Soompi, or DramaFever News, even reports on it seriously.
To be fair, AllKpop did report on the Taylor Swift and Lee Min Ho debacle, but on the rumor and how incredibly ridiculous it is. DramaFever News and Soompi did not even bother with such gossip, and those two news sites are linked with two major K-drama streaming sites, DramaFever and Viki respectively.
[Featured Photo by Ahn Young Joon/AP Images, Chung Sung Jun/Getty Images, and Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images]